VCCI - Imprints of Early Days

10:50:32 AM | 4/24/2023

Former VCCI President Doan Duy Thanh (1993-2002 office term) made great contributions to lifting VCCI to a new high. VCCI, with its increasingly influential position and increasingly diversified activities, has become a prestigious economic, political and social agency of the country, as well as in the international arena.

In 2002, VCCI President Doan Duy Thanh addressed the Conference on VCCI officials and employees

It is important to spare for infrastructure construction

In 1993, VCCI was officially separated from the Ministry of Foreign Trade and placed directly under the leadership of the Party Central Committee and the Government. After VCCI held the second Congress, I was elected President. At that time, VCCI lacked facilities and did unimportant activities. For that reason, my responsibility was quite high and heavy, but with my bold attitude and my experience working in Hai Phong City, the Ministry of Foreign Trade, the Ministry of Foreign Economic Affairs and the Central Institute for Economic Management, I overcame difficulties to build a fairly complete system of facilities for VCCI to operate well across the country.

VCCI - publicly known as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) - had to run on its own budget, not on the state budget. When I took office, I figured out three big things to do in my mind: Building a mechanism for the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, with the most important thing being the introduction of the Charter which was passed at the VCCI Congress and approved by the Prime Minister; building an apparatus suitable to its scale, functions and tasks as per the Charter; building facilities for VCCI and ensuring its stable budget and growing it sustainably; and successfully establishing business roles in society, being the core force in the course of the country’s economic development, ensuring the Party's socioeconomic development goals were firmly established.

Among the above tasks, facility construction for VCCI concerned me the most in the early days of VCCI's independent operation.

When I came to take on my job at 33 Ba Trieu, in an erstwhile house (one of the four oldest houses in Hanoi) with a total area of 600 square meters. This place was also shared by three agencies of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. Later, they moved to other places and this area was given to VCCI.

First, I upgraded the building at 33 Ba Trieu, which looked like a “dung beetle”, a very funny shape. After it was restored and upgraded, it became much more beautiful and the area was enlarged to over 2,000 square meters. With a new construction against the back of the old house to cover the “dung beetle” shape and form a 4-storey estate. Although it was small, it still looked comparatively grand. The fund for this upgrade was raised by all available sources in Hanoi, VCCI branches, especially Ho Chi Minh City Branch, and some companies.

After completing the upgrade of the headquarters at 33 Ba Trieu, the Government allocated the land at 9 Dao Duy Anh, Hanoi, for VCCI to build a new headquarters to meet necessary development needs. But, the first and most difficult matter was the source of the budget for new construction. We had to mobilize all available resources of VCCI, its branches and companies, especially those with good income like the Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer Company. However, the fund was still not enough. We discussed with Toyota Company on a joint construction by which the company financially invested in construction for 10-year rent (paying six years in advance, equivalent to about US$1.7 million at that time). We also borrowed US$180,000, carrying no interest, from a Japanese company. We could pay it whenever we had money but if we could not pay, the company would donate it. To have enough money for this work, we had to borrow from more domestic companies. The raised money for the complete construction of the Hanoi headquarters was equivalent to 10,000 taels of gold.

With the money raised, the VCCI leadership decided to start construction of the new headquarters in March 1998. Every day, except for going on business trips, I went to the construction site to check and discuss with the construction company to solve the bottlenecks. This was an 8-storey building, with a usable area of 10,000 square meters - too big to avoid every difficulty and problem. It was extremely arduous, indeed. Furthermore, we had to make sure to deliver the space to Toyota as scheduled because we would lose US$30,000 of rentals each late month plus a fine for being late.

At the end, we felt really relieved when the project was completed. All hardships of nearly 30 VCCI officers working with the Hanoi headquarters at that time were well rewarded. It took fewer than 10 months to complete construction, with quality, technique and aesthetics as good as expected. This was the largest building of VCCI, perhaps one of the largest buildings in Hanoi at that time, with a modern imposing look and two elevators, I felt very proud to see it. Importantly, this estate was completely owned by VCCI. No fund from the government was sought for it and we eventually paid off all debts for it.

After the Hanoi headquarters construction was completed, I embarked on repairing the VCCI-HCM City Branch on Vo Thi Sau Street, built new offices for VCCI branches in Vung Tau, Da Nang, Can Tho and Hai Phong (VCCI branches still rented offices for operation). All branches already had spacious, clean and beautiful offices to form a perfect VCCI network across the country, enabling its employees to contact and work with businesses easily. Going to Hanoi headquarters as well as its branches, entrepreneurs could feel as composed as at home, since they had a good environment for working, studying or connecting to the internet as needed. We had good places for domestic and international conferences. We also felt more confident to receive foreign guests.

In my opinion, we had to do everything on our own, cooperate and support each other to develop. We should not ask for State budget or borrow money from banks unless we had no other way. This was also the case for VCCI. I led facility construction for VCCI in Hanoi, Hai Phong, Da Nang, Can Tho, Vung Tau and Ho Chi Minh City with this self-reliant, self-financing approach. Apart from our own use, we leased office spaces to earn more income for employees and to avoid asking for operating budget from the State. I wanted to build up the financial source for VCCI’s long-term operation and have money to pay salaries, benefits and rewards for employees every year. But importantly, we had to build and reinforce facilities and supporting platforms to develop activities in the future.

In 1995, VCCI President Doan Duy Thanh and VCCI leaders welcomed Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet

Paving the way for Vietnamese companies to access foreign markets and improving the business environment

One of the important tasks of VCCI in its early days was to explore new and potential markets to pave the way for Vietnamese companies to go global. As the United States was one of the big and potential markets for Vietnamese companies, in September 1994, seven months after the U.S. lifted the trade embargo on Vietnam, I led a nearly 200-strong Vietnamese business delegation to visit the U.S. and participated in an exhibition in San Francisco, California. Perhaps, this was the largest business delegation of Vietnam to the U.S. up to that time. During the 5-day exhibition, many visitors came to see products introduced by Vietnamese exhibitors and all were sold by the third day. The delegation was very excited and proud. The exhibition was successful beyond our expectations and was recorded in the Foreign Affairs Report of 1994 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as one of Top 10 foreign affairs of Vietnam in the year.

Conceivably, this historic trip to the U.S. was a breakthrough for the new era of Vietnam's international integration policy of making friends with all countries in the world. The trip also opened a new chapter of economic and trade relations for Vietnamese and U.S. business communities. Along with other important high-level bilateral developments, this event contributed to paving the way for the normalization of Vietnamese-U.S. diplomatic relations.

In addition, Vietnam was invited to the Conference on “Battlefield to Marketplace” hosted by the Government of Thailand in Bangkok in 1998, marking an important milestone in the process of finding market and investment cooperation for Vietnamese companies. At that time, I led the business delegation to accompany Government leaders to attend the event. The idea of turning the battlefield (because Vietnam experienced many years of war) into the marketplace where goods could be exchanged and business was facilitated, initiated by the Thai Prime Minister, offered an opportunity for many ASEAN businesses and investors to learn about Vietnam more specifically and clearly. Three important agencies, namely the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industries and the Thai Bankers Association, also had strong support for Vietnam as well as VCCI. This was also the first time that VCCI led a business delegation to Thailand to meet with ASEAN partners, really a valuable opportunity for VCCI, with its leading mission, to find a way to enter the ASEAN region for the young Vietnamese business community.

Former VCCI President Doan Duy Thanh received the First-Class Independence Medal at the VCCI 50th Anniversary, April 2013

While seeking the way for Vietnamese goods and companies into the world, VCCI also actively built a favorable business environment for companies. Clearly, VCCI made an important milestone in the process of formulating and drafting the Law on Enterprises 1999, which took effect in 2000. The law brought new breath to the Vietnamese business community. In drafting the law, for the first time, VCCI consulted and opined on the law drafting. VCCI coordinated with the Central Institute for Economic Management and relevant agencies to organize workshops with many companies and trade associations where experts, authorities and policymakers could learn and understand more clearly about difficulties, obstacles as well as advantages in business operation, rather than “create a law in an air-conditioned room”. These events made the Law on Enterprises 1999 reasonable, clear and practical, which was highly appreciated by the business community. Therefore, the enforcement was also more convenient as businesses knew how to implement it, and did not feel confused as before.

Nevertheless, it was also not so easy to enact the law. To promote the law's enforcement, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai established the Prime Minister's Working Group led by the Minister of Planning and Investment and VCCI had members in this group which worked with many companies to find out more than 400 sub-licenses and proposed abolishing over 200 sub-licenses to facilitate business operations.

There are so many more events that made the impression and the name of VCCI in early years of independent operation that I cannot tell about them all. I am sure that the time with VCCI is warm, close and unforgettable for me. VCCI is always a “common roof” for VCCI people, entrepreneurs and the business community, not only in the past 60 years but forever.

Doan Duy Thanh Former VCCI President

Source: Vietnam Business Forum